He is Risen! Sermon for Easter

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for | he is good;*

for his steadfast love endures for- | ever!

Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the | righteous:*

“The right hand of the LORD does | valiantly,

I shall not die, but | I shall live,*

and recount the deeds | of the LORD.

The stone that the builders re- | jected*

was made the capstone

This is the day that the | LORD has made;*

let us rejoice and be | glad in it.

Blessèd is he who comes in the name | of the LORD!*

We bless you from the house | of the LORD.

What was death has been turned to life. What was sadness has been turned to shouts of joy. What was despair has been turned into gladness. The Lord, who was dead, is alive. Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. He was crucified for our transgressions, and raised again for our justification. Christ is arisen from the graves dark prison. So let our song exulting rise, Christ with comfort lights our eyes, Alleluia!

The women are on their way to the tomb. Today begins with rituals we know all too well. The sad journey to the graveside of a loved one. The halting steps of the survivors. The rites of mourning. The women go to anoint him. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had already used 75 pounds of spices. The women will add more. So they think. But they are too late to anoint the body of Jesus. When they arrive, the tomb is opened. The angelic messenger greets them with the glad tidings.

This they did not expect.

To us that seems odd. Jesus predicts his death and resurrection on more than one occasion. It had been prophesied since the beginning, so it should not have come as a surprise. And yet, the disciples did not understand. Jesus says, “I will be killed and on the third day will be raised”. It’s not subtle, it’s not a mysterious saying. It is a straightforward description of what will happen. And yet, we are told that the disciples didn’t get it How can that be?

Seeing they do not see. Hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

God actively hides these things from the world. That seems strange. God would have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. It seems like he would want us to know these things. And yet, the sinful human flesh can not know the things of God. As we have seen during this past Lenten season, even when presented with unmistakable evidence of Jesus divinity, the people harden their hearts to His word. They refuse to acknowledge him. Why? Because our hearts can not hear the word, can not receive the word, can not believe it. And so the people demand a sign, and when he gives it, they reject it and accuse him of doing signs by demons. He helps others, and he is accused of breaking the Sabbath. He even raises Lazarus from the dead; their the reaction is to try and kill Lazarus, so that he would not stand as evidence of who Jesus is.

The world is opposed to God, and is opposed to the things of God. Our attachment to, our love of the things of this world is because we are weak in our faith. It is a struggle to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. An impossible struggle. We are not capable of such things.

And so, just as the disciples could not believe such a strange and wondrous thing when Jesus told them, the women do not expect it either. Unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, unstops our ears, and breaks through our stony heart, the corruption of sin is just too great. As we confess, “I believe that I can not by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.

The women arrive at the tomb, and they hear the word of the Gospel proclaimed by the angel. “He has risen! He is not here.” Oddly enough – we don’t see Jesus today, we don’t hear from him. We hear the report. The disciples will see him. We are told over 500 see him raised from the dead. But the church only has their report – It’s all we have had in the church since Jesus ascension. We must hear the report of those who witnessed, those who heard the word of the angel. The apostolic witness is what God gives us. The word they preached, which the Holy Spirit caused to be written for our instruction: the Gospel accounts, the Epistles,. We hear those words, that witness, and pray that God would break through our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh that worships him alone.

But what of those women? They have the witness of the angel to be sure. Extraordinary events. Next week we hear of Thomas who refused to believe unless he saw. “I will not believe” he said. But these women did not doubt. The scripture says they were trembling and astonished, and that they were afraid. We usually associate these words with doubt, unbelief. But we must let scripture interpret scripture, we must let the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and not presuppose that in our sin we can discern the things of God on our own.

The women were trembling. “Tromos” is the word for trembling. It is used throughout the New Testament.

Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling…

And again Paul writes to the Ephesians,

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,

And to the Phillipians,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Psalmist writes, “Serve the Lord with fear. And rejoice with trembling.” Fear and trembling is the response of the faithful to the Word of God. It does not mean just shaking, although certainly the women were shaking. They’d just gone to the cemetery and an angel told them their dearly departed was no longer dead. Of course they were puzzled and likely shaking. But godly fear and trembling is what happens when the full truth of the Gospel hits you. In the case of the women, they were given a task – to go and report to the apostles that Jesus is raised from the dead. That’s an important job.

And we are told that the apostles did not believe their report. Peter and John will rush to the tomb, see the clothing, no Jesus. But there is no angel to announce to them. “They still did not believe the scriptures, that Jesus would rise from the dead. They went home.”

It’s little wonder the women were trembling at their task. Who would believe such a thing? We see that reaction a lot when God gives people a job to do. We are told that  Moses was trembling when he spoke to God on the mountain.

The women were utterly astonished. The word they have heard is unlike anything else. The dead are raised? What can this mean? The word of God often astonishes.

The response of the crowds when Jesus finished teaching the sermon on the mount: “They were astonished at his teaching.”

It is also used to describe Peter and Paul when God speaks to them in a vision. An ecstatic experience. That’s the word.

The women were afraid, they were ecstatic. But it doesn’t mean they doubted. In scripture these words are used to describe the response of the faithful to hearing the Word, and receiving that word with thanksgiving. The women believed the word that was spoken to them – as unbelievable as it was. They were told to tell the apostles. They ran to tell them – they spoke to no one on the way. And so, they said nothing to anyone.

Remember back at the birth of Jesus. The angels tell the shepherds the good news. The shepherds were quaking and afraid. They went to Bethlehem, and then on the way back, told everyone they saw. The women would have done that, like the shepherds had done all those years before in Bethlehem. But the women were sent to speak to the apostles. To bring to them the news of the resurrection. And so they go quietly. They don’t talk along the way. They hurry to tell the eleven all that they had heard and seen.

 

The women hear and believe. In their confusion they hold on to the word and promise they have been given. They don’t know what’s going on. But they respond with proper fear of the Lord and his word. They respond with the trembling heart of faith. They are astonished at the word of Gospel spoken to them.

They are our example this day. The example of godly conduct, of fear, love and trust in God, even if things are going on that are beyond our understanding. Even if they are being tested by God, going through a time of great sorrow. They still hold on to the word, and go to do as the angel says.

Notice also, the angel makes specific reference to Peter. Tell the disciples and Peter. After Peter’s shameful denial, one might assume he was out. Peter denied Jesus to his face. And yet, the angel has good news even – especially for – Peter. Tell the apostles, and Peter, that he will go before them to Galilee. He goes and they will see him, not so that he can speak a word of judgment against them for their unbelief. But so that he can comfort them with the resurrection. So that he can absolve them, restore Peter, and speak to them God’s word of salvation.

Saint Paul writes that Jesus was crucified for our transgressions and raised again for our justification. It is in the resurrection that we see the difference between Jesus, and the others who were crucified with him. On the first day of the week, those criminals were off the cross as well. But they are still in their tombs. The dead whom we bury from this church are still in their tombs. Unless our Lord returns first, every one of us will one day rest in our tomb. Jesus is not in his tomb. He is risen. Do not doubt the report – even as unbelievable as it may seem. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified has been raised, and so he will raise all those who believe in him. The promise Jesus gives is that the tombs will be emptied. The dead will be raised. Those who believe in him are given the victory. They will be raised imperishable. They will be taken to be with him, that where he is –he has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty – so faithful will be raised to a new life in God. Jesus has gone to prepare a place. And he will return. Where he goes, there shall be no night. They will not need the light of a lamp or of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. Death met its match in Christ’s death. It’s power was utterly broken.

And yet for a time in this world, like those women, we hear and receive that word with fear and trembling because, like the women, we still see the death and corruption around us. We still have to make that journey to the cemetery. We still have our earthly good byes. But in Jesus, death is now life. Those who are laid to rest, will be raised, in Christ, imperishable, incorruptible, immortal. Not yet. Still fear and trembling as we receive and, by the grace of God, believe the word of the angel.

On the other side of the resurrection, there will be no death. No sin. No crying or tears or pain. The old order of things has passed away, behold I make all things new.

He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

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